Bill Morrison is a preeminent figure in the found footage filmmaking scene. Working from raw materials found in the British National Archives, Morrison constructs a loose narrative and history on the miners and mines of Durham, England past, that, with the accompaniment of Jóhann Jóhannsson's score, stirs the soul.
Opening with an expansive aerial long take of modern Durham - a collection of nondescript shopping malls and suburban track homes between green fields - Morrison points out the former sites of collieries. As the wind whips up, and we move closer to the coast he begins to slow the footage down, and then we transition to the black and white setting of early 20th century Durham. The scene opens on thousands of people, here in the center of town to celebrate the miners; their friends, their brothers, their husbands and fathers. Bands play, banners sway, parades march. Thousands of smiling faces, hundreds of them looking directly at the camera. And with that we've traveled back in time. It is mesmerizing. 95% of the archived footage is in pristine condition, nary a scratch or a mark, the assembled film has some of the best footage I've seen of the mid-industrial period.
Morrison moves through the decades, continuing on with the eerily striking use of slow motion, with a visit down the mine shaft, to the beaches where young men and women search for washed up bits of coal, and onto miner's strikes, scab buses, and riots. There are no inter-titles, there is no voice-over, just Jóhannsson's organ and brass backed score ebbing and flowing, booming and brooding, stirring up the spirit and the spirits of the people of Durham.
If you are in New York for the festival, please don't pass this one up. It's spectacular to see on the big screen. The only way better I could think to see this would be in Durham with live musical accompaniment.
Screens: April, 25, 28
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